Residents of NYC's Lower East Side are no strangers to the virtually ubiquitous graffiti tattooing the walls you encounter between the Williamsburg and Manhattan bridges. Indeed, graffiti is as characteristic of the Lower East Side as chic restaurants and boutiques.
But rewind back to the late ‘70s, take out the trendy shops and eateries, and you have a very industrial, working-class area of Manhattan. And it’s during that time that artist/photographer Sol LeWitt, living on Hester Street, took out his camera and started documenting the area.
LeWitt took thousands of photographs of “streetscapes, storefronts with their gates pulled down, political posters, graffiti art,” says curator Adam Shopkorn.
The photographer died in 2007. Eventually LeWitt’s photographs were collected into a book: "On The Walls of the Lower East Side." But the images were never shown collectively in New York. That is until now.
Shopkorn, who works with the Paula Cooper Gallery and LeWitt's estate, mounted 120 vinyl prints in a grid-like presentation along the side of the Mondrian Soho hotel on Lafayette Street.
“[LeWitt] was simply documenting works on walls. And I think the people who were putting those works on walls I don’t know if they really considered themselves street artists either,” added Shopkorn.
Some passersby stop to admire the large array of photos. Others don’t. Either way is fine with Shopkorn. “I’m hopeful that means it was put in the right place. That’s means it blends in,” says Shopkorn.
The permanent display does seem like a natural fit, quietly fusing old and new into something indelibly characteristic of the Lower East Side.
For more "Next List" videos about graffiti, check out our profile of artist Tristan Eaton.